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Theater Dayz

So much to unpack. But let this be the prelude and I’ll just build on it.

The rhythm game IDOLM@STER Million Live: Theater Days, launched the night I was packing for Anime Expo (day -1). I put in a fair amount of hours and money in the game since and we don’t really have a real event yet. The first “event” is actually just a period of time where activities in-game will yield more rewards, and you get a free 30-stam drink every day.

Since I can’t talk about how events affect this game, I can talk about the other stuff–which is rather noteworthy. To put it simply, this is the game we’ve been waiting for since Shiny Festa was first a thing. It takes the next step that Deresute didn’t quite take, which is to build out hakomas-style dance groups (fixed at 5 members), but also with audio mixing. Granted this is only available for one song, Brand New Theater, but we expect Thank You, Welcome, and Dreaming all will have this option available.

Watching and playing Brand New Theater in Theater Days (avoiding the Milishita nickname for now) is a trip. It is enough proximity of an experience to watching S4U modes in PS3. This is something that I can call authentically “IDOLM@STER” which has been now recreated in a new video game. On just this level, Theater Days is a success in my book…at least comparable to Shiny Festa.

The main interface of Theater Days is full 3D with characters moving about the screen like…ships passing in the night? They just glide to and from designated points in each “room” and other than a few pre-scripted things, they are just kind of there. I guess this is the limitation of randomly-generated character events than carefully-scripted ones you find in the in-game menus of Platinum Star or BanG Dream. I’m nonetheless grateful that at least on an individual basis, the idols that appear in the rooms, lobby, hallways, or whatever, do the things we want to see them do.

Unlike Deresute, I’ve been playing Theater Days with 3D as much as possible. The 2D mode is pretty lame, but it does what you need it to do–which is nothing but static background that you can’t even affect (outfits/SSR make no difference). Indeed, this game is meant to put the fact that IDOLM@STER the Video Game Franchise is about 3D-rendered idols dancing and singing while you do things, front and center. The gameplay even forces a gameplay pause during the bridge of each song so you can watch the idols strut their stuff.

I feel this is the main charm of the game. And at the same time it’s something that the market has been kind of weaning off of. Most players these days are groomed to play them without these enhancements, in order to squeeze the battery life a bit longer. The hardware in the wild probably still has a ways to go to make the Theater Day vision 100% true, but we’re pretty close, if you have a modern phone (GS8, iPhone 7).

The rest of the game is very much similar to Deresute. The team composition, leveling, training, awakening, and limit breaking all play more or less like modern rhythm F2P games that now flood the market. I won’t belabor this and rhythm game aspects of Theater Days besides to say that flick notes sure are PITA. And probably the one most notable thing is that Theater Days have many quality-of-life upgrades over Deresute, such as removing inventory management all together, so you never have to deal with duplicate cards or putting cards into dorms or whatever. Not too important of a thing, but I appreciate it.

Of course, Theater Days is still in its early days, and it isn’t as feature rich as Deresute, although you can kind of see they plan to feature-match all the basic stuff down the road. It’s also kind of buggy on the edges, and talks to the server a lot. The core game works pretty well, so it’s not like BanG Dream which can still cold crash on my phone (happened just today in fact…).

And yeah, it’s invariable to compare Theater Days with Deresute, and so far it’s a helpful guide. There isn’t a room of SD stuff you can play with, but I think that’s intended (no such thing in ML card game). The gameplay adds a “shigoto” mode which in effect, lets you progress using stamina to get a random commu, rather than to play a song. Maybe it’s a QoL thing too, but commu with idols is also another hallmark of the franchise. It’s important and heartening to see this feature being put it to in the game explicitly, rather than just story that you unlock.

One last note in regards to the early days of Theater Days: the gacha. Unlike Cinderella Girls, you can reasonably “collect” all the Million Live characters off the bat. In fact, with 765Pro characters in the game and getting new voiced lines and scenarios, I really wanted to at least get those 13 first. It would just be like OFA! LOL. The harsh reality is that the initial gacha layout gives 26 R and 26 SR, splitting the full cast in half. Since there is no “friend point” gacha you cannot roll for Ns, as N cards drop only by completing songs and work, and at a “fairly low” rate (given that this is a compu gacha you’re aiming for). The characters whose only non-N cards are SRs are hard to get. Also since the SSR rate is at a blessedly 3% it meant that you had a higher odds of pulling a SSR than a specific SR. With the first new batch of limited SSR/SR, that ratio has changed a bit so you have 0.388% of pulling a SR (excluding the promoted SR) and 0.338% of pulling a specific SSR–almost the same IMO. But it’s hard to get all the Ns. As of this writing I have 48 Ns, 24 SRs, and 7 SSRs. I only was able to complete all the Rs.

So, let’s talk about the meta stuff.

I’m still struggling to incorporate Kaori and Tsumugi into my brain, on an emotional and intellectual level. I don’t think there’s anything unusual about it; it took me over half a year to get into Million Live properly so I expect to get comfy with the two project 39 members by winter this year at the latest. I certainly don’t dislike them, but it would help to see them live in October, yeah?

There are some fanon forming and reforming around Kaori and Tsumugi, and it’s kind of a fun time seeing it happening as it goes. The game itself brings life to Million Live by introducing the characters to more people and to opportunist artists, so hey, not complaining about that.

One of the more subtle threads about the two new characters is how in effect, at least at this point, the less refined characterization necessarily meant they are caricatured to a degree, replacing existing ships or roles in well-established tropes or jokes. I think Fuuka is really feeling it. Hopefully this is just a temporary thing while Mugi and Kaori spread their wings to come into their own selves.

With SideM game also on display (prereg period ongoing now!) we get a glimpse of the hydra that is IDOLM@STER as a game franchise. LOS is clearly taking a different path than TD and SS. It’s sensible to see that the boy side take a different route than the girl side. And it makes me wonder if we’ll get another boy-idol spinoff…

What’s probably the most noteworthy is Taneda Risa and Tanaka Kotoha. Kotoha is plainly not in Theater Days, and this is a huge move relatively. This speaks to me that IDOLM@STER is done with seiyuu switching if the circumstances can help it, and this is an internal decision. If anything, we should infer all the more that Tanechan is coming back, and it is just a matter of time. Just like how SideM anime announcement confirms that Million Live anime will happen, and it is also just a matter of time…

I guess I can take heart that at least the management is committed to doing the right things, but it’s hard to see what’s good about it. Tanechan is not Kotoha. But if Tanechan is coming back, then we need to keep that seat warm for her… Maybe there is a temporary compromise somewhere that makes up the room for improvement. Namely, just put Kotoha in but keep her voiceless?

Please get well soon & come back Tanechan, we all miss you (and not even just in Million).


Anime Expo 2017: Wrap

I don’t think I caught something, but I might have, at Anime Expo 2017. The lack of sleep was definitely the contributing factor. I feel OK enough to work but some part(s) of my body is not operating at optimal conditions, I guess.

Just to put it into the history books, AX this year was pretty epic mainly because of AWM. Outside of these Cool Japan-sponsored music festivals, AX was its usual self. It’s huge and it’s got a ton of programming, but it’s also got a ton of people and pretty disappointing line management practices which means if you want to see 10 things in 3 days, you might get to see 3-6 of those things. I wanted to see maybe 8 things, I got to see like, 4? And I have a Premiere badge.

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Anime Expo 2017 Anime World Matsuri (July 1) Japan Super Live

Without all the added fandom stuff, Japan Super Live was a lot more laid back but probably just as hyped for me. I spent the day dying and running into WUGchans. It was kind of a nonsense day but I had Row A 300s seat to make up for it.

Overall the setlist falls into place as expected, already know what everyone was gonna play, just a matter of how many songs for who. That doesn’t stop the show from surprising us.

The show started again about 30-40 minutes after 8pm. The live band was a given but always welcomed. Konomin and Angela walks onto the stage in the dark but I was like WTF. The surprises are the collabs! (Setlist & photos copied from Resonance’s PR.)

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Anime Expo 2017 Anime World Matsuri (June 30) Japan Kawaii Live

The long blog post title aside, I don’t have a whole lot to say actually. Actually let me cap the whole day, since that’s how I have been looking at this from the start.

There is more to the experience of seeing an IDOLM@STER live than the live alone. I think in this case we put together something that a lot of producers could enjoy. There was a call book thing, there was some goods sold, there is the offkai. There’s the line-up and socializing. I think people had a good time, at least based on the feedback. There were also things that can screw us up, like AX’s ticket pickup policy. But first things first.

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On the 2017 Spring Season Light Novel Meta

When light novel anime is making statements on light novels we know we are in some kind of a twilight zone. I guess it’s not that unusual to see YA lit turn into cartoons for teens and young adults (and some older adults, too). I just want to highlight some of the scenes I’ve seen and think about it a bit.

Tsukigakirei to me is the one that threw the first punch. To put it into categorically database-y terms, the jock girl and the quiet, book guy hooked up because they have, I guess, similar dispositions? The draw for viewers is this charming 15-yo pairing doing what junior high schoolers do so well, but the boy in the story has this career tangent about becoming a writer. At one point he went and interviewed for a publisher who encouraged him to write light novels, because that’s likely the (only) audience who will find his works interesting. He snubbed the idea, because in his heart he’s a classicists, as his soliloquies are often dotted by quotes from the likes of Dazai and Souseki (thus the name of the show). He writes serious fiction…for young people. Well, good luck kiddo, at least you got that snobbery attitude down, hope the rest of that hipster lit writer bit will follow. Lastly, it’s important to note that Tsukigakirei is an anime original–in some ways it’s a lot easier to write in a reactive attitude that snobs light novels without being one itself.

Eromanga Sensei is the story about young makers of light novels. It involves at its core a light novel author and his shut-in adopted little sister, who also is the illustrator for his books. It’s really that simple, but the story is about how a series of weirdos come upon the “light novel protagonist” (a well-meaning but appropriately appraised insult used within the show, no less), while the little sister becomes slightly more adjusted to society after a series of tragedies that traumatized the unfortunate siblings. As a story where most characters are involved in the light novel industry (illustrator, writers, a couple editors, and a bookstore employee/owner, plus one dick-calling classmate), it has a lot to say about light novels. Most of the time the story only make sharp comments about the industry (as a fan-critic would, thankfully at least) as part of the jokes Eromanga Sensei trots out every few episodes. Its main thrust is providing an enjoyable show (well, to me at least, but I understand it’s not for everyone) while calling you names, and calling itself names. I think there’s definitely a market for this stuff, but I also understand why some might find it too, I don’t know, meta-kinky, for straightface (or even one degree removed ironic, FWIW) consumption.

Saekano season two is not about light novels, but it has a main character whose day job is writing light novels. Instead, the work the team in Saekano tries to complete is a visual novel. How do visual novel relate to light novel (Saekano is a light novel-turn-anime)? This is a deep question, but in a honest-to-goodness media-mix world it’s all a spectrum, as part of the drama towards the end of the series relates to another media-mix IP that’s not a visual novel, let’s just say. The focus of the story and the theme in the story this season largely rests on the creative process and how to create stuff, what motivates people, and so on. The romance angle is pretty well done in this context, but it’s no puppy love story. I think ultimately it makes some very compelling arguments from perspective of someone who’s been doing it a lot, in as much in this season’s meta, Saekano answers the question asked in Tsukigakirei very well. More importantly, Saekano plays with an even tone for the most part, with our Mr. Ethics showing us what not to do the whole way, no matter if they are creating a light novel, a visual novel, or just any creative-creative thing. Actually, you should read this to get a sense of what I mean. This story is as much about producing as it is about creating.

I watched Rokuaka and find it unremarkable on the meta ground as far as light novels go, although it demonstrates, to me, the strength of an anime based on the medium. Danmachi’s spinoff is on this season as well but I have not touched it (yet?). I dropped Clockwork Planet, but it is pretty much just straight-faced as well. There’s not much to say about Sukasuka, perhaps aside from its post-rock style title. Are there any other light novel trash about light novel trash this season?

It’s safe to say we’re beyond peak Light Novel Anime. I think things seem stabilized, but this level of self-awareness is only possible after a full embrace of this mode of media. We’re technically past an inflection point, but I’m not sure where things are going. I’m not so much into forecasting on the industry level on this, but I think Eromanga Sensei is a standard bearer in this regard; it’s very much a version two, after carefully adjusting from version one of the thing. Its success(?) or failure(?) will be informative.